49ER FANS are torn this week, approaching the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, because a win means nothing in this lost season but a loss would put them ahead of the Cardinals in the draft, giving them a better shot at the top quarterbacks.
Frankly, I donít see enough of college football to evaluate quarterbacks, with the exception of Stanfordís Andrew Luck, whom I think will be a topflight NFL quarterback. My guess (thatís all it is) is that heíll play a third season for the Cardinal before leaving.
The college game is so different from the pros now, with so many variations of the spread offense, that itís very difficult to evaluate quarterbacks.
The 49ersí recent record with quarterback evaluations is not good. Everybody knows they passed over Aaron Rodgers for Alex Smith, but they also passed up a chance to get Matt Cassel when he was a free agent. Cassel went to Kansas City, which is now 10-5 and AFC West champions Ė and one of their losses came when he was out because of an appendectomy.
The Raiders have also whiffed badly on a college quarterback, the infamous JaMarcus Russell, who ranks with Ryan Leaf as the biggest quarterback busts of all time.
Thereís another aspect to that story. After the 2005 season, Drew Brees was a free agent because the San Diego Chargers had set their eyes on Philip Rivers in the draft. Neither the Raiders nor the 49ers pursued him. Probably good for Brees, but not so good for the locals.
There isnít much doubt the 49ers will have to go after a quarterback in the draft. Alex Smith will almost certainly leave. I hope theyíll let Troy Smith, a.k.a. the one-hit wonder, go. I donít know what will happen with Nate Davis, who somehow incurred Mike Singletaryís wrath in the preseason this year. I had hopes he could develop because heís certainly got the physical ability.
Meanwhile, Iím hoping the 49ers will make a good choice in the draft, but just as important is getting the right coaches to help him.
Coordinators are the most significant members of NFL coaching staffs because they run the offenses and defenses. But the 49ers limped along with Jimmy Raye last season and for part of this one because Mike Singletary fired Mike Martz and couldnít find a good coordinator who would work with him.
That has to change. The 49ers had the players to win this season but never developed any consistency on either side of the ball. That goes directly to the coaching, so itís just as important that they get the right coaches in place for next season as making the right selections in the draft.
WHILE SITTING in the Kaiser waiting room yesterday, I got into a conversation with a fan about the possibility of Jon Gruden coaching the 49ers. The fan thought Gruden would ďdo a MaddenĒ, staying in television for 20 years and making a ton of money.
That would seem to be preferable to staying in the coaching grind, because the TV gig is not difficult for those with the kind of knowledge Madden and Gruden have. Basically, the TV guys look at stats during the week at home, travel to the game site on Friday, talk to coaches and players the next day and then do the game on Sunday.
By contrast, coaches work 16-hour days all week and then have tremendous pressure on game day. They have no lives during the season. Bill Walsh used to characterize an NFL season for coaches as comparable to taking a submarine voyage for six months. Their wives have to handle all the family responsibilities.
Frankly, I donít know why anybody would take that kind of job, even for the money that NFL head coaches make now. But there are some guys who canít conceive of doing anything else, if they have a chance to coach. I think Gruden is in that category.
Madden was a different case. After 10 seasons as a head coach, and two as an assistant before that, he was burned out.
Part of the reason was working for Al Davis, who was very demanding, to put it charitably. Davis and Madden had many disagreements. Madden was able to establish his own personality with the team, but that was a constant battle. Raider coaches also had to work longer hours than other coaches did at that time because Davis demanded that they adapt to his time schedule. Davis wouldnít show up at the office until noon Ė while coaches were expected to be there at 8 a.m. Ė but coaches had to stay until the early hours of the morning because Davis did. One time when I was working in The Chronicle office near midnight and needed to reach Madden about a story, I called his home. His wife answered and said, ďMr. Dickey, you should know better than to try to reach him at home at this time.Ē
Despite that, Maddenís biggest reason for quitting was his fear of flying Ė which was understandable. He had played college ball at Cal Poly and, a year after he left, a plane carrying Cal Poly players crashed; as I remember, they were all killed. Madden had the natural thought, ďThere but for the grace of God. . .Ē and he never forgot that.
One time when I was covering the Raiders, we were on a trip back from a game in the East. I was sitting up in front at a table, talking to Madden over dinner. The pilot announced, ďIf you look out the window, you can see lightning strikes.Ē
Madden turned green and never ate another bite. Iím more fatalistic about flying, so I continued eating Ė but Iíd never had Maddenís past experience.
His decision to quit coaching came at a time when he didnít know what he was going to do next. One of the things he tried was teaching a course at UC extension on football. I attended one class and he was quite good.
Then, he got into TV work and, after a slow start, found his niche. In TV sports, itís less what you say than how you say it. Nobody ever explained the game better than Bill Walsh but audiences never warmed to him. Madden was just the opposite. He certainly gave viewers good information but it was his personality that won them over Ė and ultimately made him millions.
And, he hasnít been on a plane since 1978. He first traveled the train, then got his own bus to take him to the games he worked. That took much more time, but it eliminated the nightmares. There were no more lightning strikes out the window.
Gruden is also very good as an analyst on the TV games. I enjoy hearing him dissect the strategy of coaches. But there is no doubt in my mind that heíll be back as an NFL coach soon, by 2012 at least but very possibly next season. I hope itís with the 49ers.
MISCONCEPTION: Once again, I saw an interview in The Chronicle that implied that Eddie De Bartoloís money (his fatherís, actually) was responsible for the 49ers four Super Bowl wins in the Ď80s.
Not quite. In fact, the first Super Bowl champion was near the bottom in NFL payrolls and the second, a 15-1 team in the regular season, was in the middle range.
That all changed when Eddie invited Joe Montana and Dwight Clark back to his home after the Super Bowl and impulsively gave them big raises. ďThe next day, several players were at my door, led by Ronnie Lott, demanding raises,Ē Bill Walsh told me at the time.
Lott, especially, was deserving, because he was as important to the 49er defense as Montana was to the offense. Clark was a good player who made his reputation with The Catch in the 1982 NFC Championship game (heís back working with the Niners and will be inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame this year) but je was not in the Montana/Lott class.
After that, the 49ers payroll shot to the top of the league.
De Bartoloís money helped Walsh build depth on the team. At one point, they had Montana, Steve Young and Steve Bono at quarterback. A bit better than this yearís quarterbacks. Eddieís excesses also were a factor in a salary cap being installed. But it was Walshís acumen, both in coaching and building an organization, that was the main factor in the teamís success.
NFL GREED: Itís all about money in the NFL these days, even if that affects the actual competition.
The latest example is these ridiculous Thursday night games after the college season has ended. Thereís no way teams can adequately prepare for these games. Theyíre still trying to recover, physically and mentally, from the previous game. Itís especially hard for the visiting team, which has to use one day of the three between games to travel.
So, why are they scheduled? To get more money from the TV networks.
Itís the same with the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the NFL Players Association over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The owners are demanding an 18-game regular season schedule without any consideration for what that will do to the players. Again, itís to get more profitable TV contracts with two extra regular season games.
It doesnít stop there. The owners also want the players to take a cut in the percentage they get from the money coming in. Why? Because theyíve found it more difficult to extort subsidies from cities or sell PSLs to fans to help build new stadiums.
I can hardly hold back my tears for these billionaires who own teams.
WARRIORS OWNERS: Since the Warriors have been sold, there have been many approving comments about the new owners getting more involved than Chris Cohan was. But this is truly a case of being careful what you wish for.
The best owners are usually those who donít get involved in the daily operations of the team but appoint good people to do that.
Cohanís failing was that he made the wrong decisions on people, especially with his practice of appointing friends who were not really qualified for their jobs.
Itís a mistake to think he wasnít involved. That was propagated by media who found it difficult to get quotes from him. For a time, I was virtually the only one in the media with whom Cohan talked, and that was primarily because I donít demand quotes from owners. I want the information, and I often got off-the-record information from Cohan about what was happening with the team.
For the first several years, he was very involved. He had an office at the Warriors offices and he was there every day. He didnít make decisions on trades or draft choices, but he was the one who hired and fired general managers and coaches.
The problem was, he could never seem to get it right. He didnít get the right general manager in place until Chris Mullin (who got forced out in a power struggle with another of Cohanís bad choices, Robert Rowell). His coaching choices didnít work out, either. (Mullin brought back Don Nelson, who had one playoff season._
I like the men who are in the important slots now. Larry Riley has been a pleasant surprise as the general manager, making good choices on the draft and with trades. I believe Keith Smart will be a successful coach because he has the intelligence and the background as a former player who players respect.
Success wonít come overnight because the Warriors are in the strongest half of the league, but I have confidence Riley and Smart can get the job done.
If they donít get unwanted interference from the clubs new owners.
E-MAILS: I was in the Caribbean for 10 days with my family, not returning until early Monday morning this week, so I couldnít answer any e-mails sent me in that time. Nor could I yesterday because I had two appointments at Kaiser in the morning and the second one, an eye appointment, left me with dilated eyes the rest of the day. But Iím back in action now, so fire away.
AND, FINALLY, I hope everybody had a good Christmas and will have a Happy New Year. Nancy and I plan to celebrate at home with a bottle of Billecart Salmon rose champagne. Weíve found thatís a good start to the new year!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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